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It's a Mod Mod World


With apologies to William Shakespeare, “To be (modular) or not to be (modular). That is the question.” Many network products from TAPs and Packet Brokers to security appliances and switches offer varying levels of modularity in their design. The associated advantages and risks with each design approach make for an interesting discussion.

Modularity The primary advantage to a modular design is flexibility. A product that is designed with groupings of ports in modules is a chameleon. A single chassis can support a variety of applications, speeds, media and connections. After the initial design, when needs and/or speeds change down the road, a complete system change is not usually required. One can simply replace one module with an different version to accommodate the new requirement.

A modular TAP is a good example. TAPs are used to efficiently connect security and analysis appliances to network links. TAPs offer secure and fail safe tool connections so network managers can protect, analyze and enhance network performance. However, many networks have a variety of physical connections, speeds and media throughout the network. Modular TAPs embrace a variety of connection requirements by making standard modules that fit in a single chassis. This way multi-mode fiber connections, single mode fiber copper connections, 1Gbps connections, 10Gbps, can all be accommodated by a single chassis.

This design also simplifies power requirements. Rather than racking up a number of different chassis each with its own power requirement, a single modular chassis can be racked and powered using different modules as required.

Another benefit is growth accommodation. Since the chassis is usually the least expensive component in this design, managers can deploy a larger chassis than what is currently required and add ports as needed down the line for growth.

Reliability is another consideration. While the design of a modular system may be very reliable, modular systems have more opportunity for human error by improper insertion of modules damaging connectors. Once everything is installed and connected, modular and fixed systems have similar reliability results. So, with proper training and care, modular systems can closely match reliability of fixed systems but human error must be more closely managed.

Modular systems add a little to manufacturing costs because there are more components and a more complicated design than a single use fixed platform. This extra cost may be mitigated by the benefits noted above. Over the long run, total cost of ownership may actually be lower than a fixed system.

Fixed Systems Even though modularity has many benefits, fixed systems have a place in the network equipment market as well.

Fixed systems are cheaper to design and manufacture. There are fewer connection points and fewer components needed to perform the required function. So, if the application is fixed and not expected to grow or change, some budget money may be saved using a fixed configuration system.

Reliability is generally good with fixed systems. There are fewer components and connectors that can cause problems. The installation and deployment functions are usually simpler with fewer opportunities for human error. Not that I say fewer opportunities for human error. We all know that no product is completely “human proof.”

Overall reliability relies on many factors including the engineering and manufacturing quality of the vendor. One of the critical issues with fixed systems is that if the product fails, there is no way to partially fix it. The solution to a failure is usually to return the entire system for repair or replacement. Depending on the criticality of the function, a failure may bring the network down or require severe work arounds until the product can be replaced or repaired. Modular systems, by comparison, may have replacement modules in local stock for simple and fast replacement of failed components.

Hybrids Many systems offer a hybrid solution providing basic port connections augmented by slots for a variety of application and connection requirements. The systems provide the best of both worlds in flexibility and growth and also similar, although less critical, problems associated with fixed systems.

There are some cost savings by integrating base connection functionality with the chassis. If the base configuration fits your needs this solution can be attractive. The extra slots, if flexible in speed, connectivity and media can provide for easy management of growth and network changes. Problems with the connections in the integrated base chassis may still require a system change but problems in the modules may be easily mitigated.

Conclusion The conclusion here is that “it depends.” There is actually no right or wrong solution when it comes to the fixed vs modular discussion. Like many other design issues, your specific requirements will guide the decision. It is important to look at all options in relation to what you are trying to accomplish and available budget.

The message here is that there is no substitute for thorough, thoughtful and meticulous planning. Chart our your needs for speed, media, connectivity, reliability, future flexibility, growth and cost. Search out a vendor that provides the solutions that meet your requirements grid.

Fortunately, companies like Network Critical offer solutions that are completely modular, completely fixed and hybrids. You will find a wide variety of network monitoring solutions in the Network Critical portfolio supported by a team of experts to help you develop and support your specific network needs. For more information or to talk with a network monitoring expert go to www.networkcritical.com.

Posted: 17/03/2017 13:44:07 by Network Critical with 0 comments
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